U of T’s highly selective, and tiny, creative writing MA program isn’t the only route for those looking to unleash their inner voice on the page. Since the mid-1990s, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies has offered creative writing courses; it formalized its creative writing certificate program in 2001.
Lee Gowan took the reins as the program’s director in 2003, and since then it has quadrupled in size. The focus is on process: students are taught elements of narrative and structure, then are given assignments that will get them using what they’ve learned in the classroom. Gowan reports that most of the program’s students are between the ages of 35 and 55, and many speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language.
“We have over 2,000 registrations per year,” says Gowan, and students can choose among courses geared toward different types of creative writing. Among the program’s nearly 100 instructors are such celebrated authors as Dennis Bock, Michael Winter and poet Ken Babstock, who has also been involved with the MA program. Gowan says faculty overlap between the two programs is not uncommon.
Anyone can enrol in creative writing courses at the school, and it has produced its own share of notable alumni. Marina Nemat’s bestselling 2007 memoir Prisoner of Tehran was written during her time in Continuing Studies.
“These courses help people with the craft, they give people a deadline, and they give people a community, which is one of the most important things in a writer’s life,” Gowan says.
“It can really help to have a group to support you and offer feedback to help you to improve.”